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Posted: November 06, 2017

How to explain gun violence to children after the Texas church shooting

Talking To Your Child About A Traumatic Event Like A School Shooting

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How to explain gun violence to children after the Texas church shooting
Mona Rodriguez holds her 12-year-old son, J Anthony Hernandez, during a candlelight vigil after a mass shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Sunday, Nov. 5, 2017. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

By Nicole Villalpando, Austin American-Statesman

AUSTIN, Texas —

Last month, Jane Ripperger-Suhler, a child psychiatrist at the Texas Child Study Center in Seton, had this advice for parents about how much they should say about a deadly mass shooting, such as the one in Las Vegas or the one in Sutherland Springs.

Be careful about who is watching with TV with you and how you explain it, she advises.

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“It really depends on the developmental level of the kids,” she says. Consider how you think your children will take what they see on TV, she says. “I wouldn’t watch a lot with preschooler.”

For kids already in school, you can watch some with them, but be prepared to talk about it and answer their questions. You can ask things like: “What do you think about this?” “What questions do you have?” Gage if they want to talk about it, but, she says, “I wouldn’t force them to talk about this.”

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Explain things in the simplest yet factual way you can. You could say, “A man shot some people at a concert. I guess he was upset about something,” she says. Or in this case: “A man walked into a church and shot people.”

You can focus on how you are feeling, that you’re upset and that you also don’t understand why this happened, but be careful about how you are reacting. “If a parent swoons or becomes frantic, a child is going to do likewise.”

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Most importantly, remind kids that they are safe; that you will keep them safe, and when they are at school, their teachers will keep them safe.

If your child seems to be fixated on what happened in these shootings, you could encourage them to draw, build something or act something out if they don’t want to talk about it.

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If they don’t seem to be able to move on after a few days, are afraid to go to school, are too scared to go to bed, are having physical symptoms of stress or behavior problems, get them help sooner rather than later, Ripperger-Suhler says.

Be especially aware if a child has experience a trauma before. Watching this scene on TV will not cause post-traumatic stress disorder, she says, but it can be more traumatic and disturbing to some kids.

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Ripperger-Suhler says it’s important to go about normal life. And for many families, that normal life may mean going to church on a Sunday.

If your children express some fear about it, reassure them that you will keep them safe.


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